By Will Vandervort / Photos courtesy Clemson University.
Woody McCorvey was in shock when he and the rest of the Clemson football team walked into the locker room and saw the famous orange pants sitting in each of the players’ lockers.
The Tigers had just returned from pregame warm ups as they prepared to play South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia that night.
“That was something that was very uncharacteristic of what Coach Ford did because it was always a tradition that we wore them at home,” said McCorvey, who is now an Associate Athletic Director at Clemson. “The only other time they wore them on the road was when they won the national championship in 1981.”
Before that night, Clemson had not worn orange pants since losing to Florida State in 1988 in a game that is known as “Puntrooski.” Ford would only allow them to be pulled out for what were deemed special games. He used them as motivation, and it worked.
Clemson was 15-2 at the time in the orange pants, which first debuted in a 27-6 victory over South Carolina in 1980. The two losses were a one-point defeat by the Gamecocks in 1984 and the three-point loss to the Seminoles in 1988.
The Tigers had to earn the right to wear orange pants by the way they practiced. The seniors would request to wear the special britches the Monday before a big game, but players never knew if they would get to wear them until they came in from pregame warm ups.
McCorvey remembers the emotions in the locker room that night when the players saw the pants.
“When we went back into the locker room and saw that they were out, it went crazy in there,” he said. “You could not believe the sense of the locker room when those kids saw those pants. We went back out there and played with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of emotion.
“It was pretty much a complete ballgame by us that night.”
The Tigers rushed for 335 yards and finished the night with 446 total yards in a 45-0 victory. The defense held the Gamecocks to 155 total yards, while forcing five turnovers in the series’ last shutout.
“Clemson played a perfect game,” then South Carolina head coach Sparky Woods said. “I think the turning point took place when we kicked off. We just got beat throughout the entire game.”
The 15th-ranked Tigers scored on their first four possessions, while totaling 302 yards before halftime. Running back Terry Allen scored on two first-quarter runs and had 97 yards before reinjuring his knee late in the second quarter. That was the last time he played in a Clemson uniform.
But Allen’s injury was a sidebar to the kind of night it was for Clemson. The Tigers physically dominated the game on offense, defense and special teams.
Some say, the 1989 game is still the best game a Clemson team has ever played against the Gamecocks.
“I was not here for the 63-17 game (in 2003), but during my seven years, that night in 1989 might have been our most complete ballgame that we played,” McCorvey said. “We had a lot of good ballgames in those years, but I can’t remember a one from the beginning to the end where our players played that way the entire game.
“You talk about playing four quarters on offense, defense and special teams – that was a four-quarter football game.”
And it all started because of a change in pants, special orange pants that is.
“We had no idea and still to this day, I have never asked or talked to Coach Ford about it,” McCorvey said. “I don’t know what made him do it. A lot of times he would meet with the seniors and they would talk about things in there.
“Whether they talked about it that week, I don’t know. We did it, though, and it was something I will always remember and I know those players will remember it too.”
Following Clemson’s victory over South Carolina, the Tigers accepted a big to play West Virginia in the 1989 Gator Bowl. It was to be one of the finest hours in Clemson’s illustrious bowl history, too.
Once again, the Clemson running game was magnificent, while the defense was even better as the Tigers defeated West Virginia and Heisman Trophy Finalist Major Harris, 27-7.
Harris came into the game ranked eighth nationally in total offense and ninth in passing efficiency but the Clemson defense, led by outside linebacker Levon Kirkland, enabled the shifty Harris to gain only 17 yards on the ground and 119 yards in the air.
Kirkland was named MVP for the game after he recorded nine tackles, a sack, caused a fumble and had three quarterback pressures.
Clemson held the Mountaineers powerful offense to 237 total yards, while the Clemson offense got a workman like 257 yards rushing on 61 carries.
The Tigers wore West Virginia down and scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to put the game away. As a matter of fact, Clemson scored the game’s last 27 points after the Mountaineers opened the night with a 90-yard touchdown drive.
Defensive tackle Chester McGlockton, who led the ACC in sacks, stripped Harris of the ball near his goal line and then fell on the ball in the end zone for one of the Tigers’ three touchdowns. Fullback Wesley McFadden and tailback Joe Henderson had the other two scores.
Placekicker Chris Gardocki kicked field goals of 27 and 24 yards.
Henderson led Clemson with 92 yards, while quarterback Chris Morocco had 65 yards and Kennedy had 57.
Clemson finished the year, ranked 11th in the UPI Poll and 12th in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ Polls.
“We have gone through a lot of adversity this year and you have to give credit to our seniors. They held us together. This was their 38th win in four years.
“They have been a part of a great four years and a significant period in Clemson history. I’m going to miss this bunch.”
That was Ford’s last interview as Clemson’s head coach. He stepped down as head coach on Jan. 19, 1990. No one, including Ford himself, knew that the Gator Bowl, like his first, was his last game as Clemson’s coach.
“I never have talked about it and I don’t want to talk about it too much,” the Tigers’ legendary coach said. “Everything that has happened has happened.”
In his 11 years at Clemson, Ford produced a 96-29-4 record, which included a 6-2 bowl record and a 7-3-1 ledger against the Gamecocks. At the time, he left Clemson as the third winning-est coach in the country in terms of win percentage. He was only behind Nebraska’s Tom Osborne and Penn State’s Joe Paterno.
Editor’s note: Part of this story was an insert from the book I co-authored last summer called Clemson: Where the Tigers Play, which you can buy on amazon.com. This is the 10th in a series of stories that chronicles how these coaches turned Clemson into the football power it has come to be over the years.